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The price of hunger.

For the first time since it began keeping track in the 1970s, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that the number of hungry people around the world has increased. According to the latest edition of the agency's annual State of Food Insecurity, 852 million people go hungry every day, about 18 million more than during the mid-1990s.

Put another way, hunger kills more than 5 million children each year, or about one child every five seconds.

Although hunger primarily afflicts the poor, it's actually a very expensive problem for everyone else as well. If governments weren't paying the direct costs of coping with the damage caused by hunger--such as food aid, and illness related to malnutrition--more funds would be available to combat other social problems. "A very rough estimate suggests that these direct costs add up to around $30 billion per year," says the report, "over five times the amount committed so far to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria." In addition, the current levels of child malnutrition will result in productivity and income losses over the lifetimes of the people affected of between $500 billion and $1 trillion (at present value), the report estimates.

"Hunger reduction is not an act of charity," says Kostas Stamoulis, lead author of the report and chief of FAO's Agricultural Sector in Economic Development Service. "It is an investment with very high returns."


Ironically, the resources needed to eliminate the human suffering and loss of lives are small in comparison to the potential benefits. Every dollar invested in reducing hunger can yield from five to over 20 times as much in benefits. The report points to more than 30 countries in the developing world that have successfully reduced the numbers of the hungry.

"We cannot afford to be passive," argues Hartwig de Haen, FAO assistant director-general for economic and social development. "Taking decisive action to reduce hunger is one of the most effective ways for developing countries to increase incomes and accelerate economic growth." In the meantime, the recent increase put the world farther behind in the international Millennium Development Goal to reduce the number of hungry people by half by 2015.

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Title Annotation:ENVIRONMENTAL Intelligence
Author:Halweil, Brian
Publication:World Watch
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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